2019 brought into focus the “cancel culture” (named Macquarie Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2019). Cancel culture is toxic, it’s a term that captures an important aspect of the past year’s Zeitgeist. It’s an attitude which is so pervasive that it now has a name. Cancel culture has become, for better or worse, a powerful force, according to the said dictionary’s committee.
Definition of Cancel Culture
Cancel culture refers to mass social media boycotting of celebrities (or regular folks) for violating rules in the past that may not even have been obvious at the time. It is a modern internet phenomenon. It is commonly caused by an accusation, whether that accusation has merit or not. Basically, the ones boycotting the person are quick to judge and slow to question.
Cancel Culture Examples
Comedian Sarah Silverman was fired from a movie she was cast in recently, after a 2007 photo of her in blackface resurfaced. She has already apologized for the photo, going so far as to draw attention to it in a magazine interview. Silverman argued on The Bill Simmons Podcast podcast that cancel culture leaves no room for growth. Additionally, she said that social shaming is “really scary”.
When two allegations of sexual misconduct against Katy Perry were reported, there was a campaign on Twitter to cancel the singer. Search the hashtags #KatyPerryIsOverParty or #SurvivingKatyPerry, a play on the “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary that exposed R Kelly’s history of sexual assault.
Cultural relativism today makes it next-to-impossible for even those who want to be politically correct to practice what they preach. This leads to a New Year’s resolution that could be good for all of us. Imagine what 2020 could be like if everyone offered more kindness to others.
Obama Talked Cancel Culture
Former US President Barack Obama raised the issue that cancel culture is toxic at an Obama Foundation youth activism event. “This idea of purity and you’re never compromised, and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff,” Obama said, “you should get over that quickly.”
“The world is messy; there are ambiguities,” he continued. “People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids, and share certain things with you.” Forgiveness and kindness open the door for relationships.
American comedian Kevin Hart has a new docuseries detailing his fall from grace in the cancel culture and current struggle to make a comeback. He follows comedian Dave Chappelle’s successful Netflix special Sticks & Stones. Chappelle mocks the fact that one of the things he’s irritated about is audience members sitting there ready to judge him. The death of comedy is headline news today with stand-up comedians saying it’s too complicated, because it’s not possible to know how every word will be perceived.
Conservatives and comedians might have more in common. Cancel culture has people using the internet and social media to paint individuals in the public eye in ways that are unrecognizable. It’s a bit ironic that performers who poke fun at others are today feeling the impact of cultural disdain.
J.K. Rowling Broke Cancel Culture
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling attracted the mob’s ire in mid-December for tweeting in support of Maya Forstater. She was fired from a British think tank for expressing her belief that biological sex is immutable and binary. “Dress however you please,” Rowling wrote. “Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya#ThisIsNotADrill”
Rowling’s tweet earned her all the denunciations and anguished think pieces that a mobbing with cancel culture entails. The usual script for what would follow: Rowling vanishes the tweet and apologizes. But the author didn’t redact her lines.
There was no apology. GLAAD contacted Rowling’s PR people to arrange a meeting. However, she declined. The tweet remains up despite suggestions that Rowling had irreparably tainted her legacy. She may have actually found a way to break cancel culture.
There will be a collective realization in 2020 that mobs can’t do much except make noise. Above all, most mobs engaging in cancel culture aren’t committed to the effort beyond using the smartphone. Institutions that ignore the mob are often astonished at how little difference all the outrage makes to their business. Cancel culture is toxic and we hope it gets cancelled out in 2020.